The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has jurisdiction over four southern states and a union territory. But even almost a year after it began its full-fledged functioning in Chennai, the judicial forum lacks provisions for providing legal aid for litigants.
This has put a number of petitioners, especially those hailing from weaker sections of the society, to much hardship given that they are forced to engage lawyers outside for a high sum.
Sources said, of the large chunk of petitions that come before the tribunal, the applicants are from economically poor background.
“You see a lot of farmers and those running small-scale works coming to the tribunal to take on the State or a mighty company that pollute their environments. There are also village associations that file cases. For many of them, engaging a good lawyer is a difficult task given the high fee,” says a lawyer on conditions of anonymity.
Another issue is the growing trend to file considerable number of applications before the NGT to settle personal scores between groups or family members.
“The bench, on certain instances, has imposed heavy cost on the side that tried to use the tribunal for settling personal scores. But, the issue is, one of the sides is usually a poor person running small works. They come and stand here dumbstruck when notices are served,” says another lawyer.
Often, such petitioners are seen representing before the bench seeking time to engage lawyers. During one such instance last week, Judicial Member M Chockalingam himself asked members of the NGT Bar Association to take note of the plight of such litigants.
“Why don’t you do something about it? If you could represent for legal aid here (NGT), it will help a lot of people,” he said and added that like in the Madras High Court, once lawyers are empanelled for legal aid, the petitioners could approach the concerned authority without any delay.
When contacted, Executive Member of NGT Southern Bench Bar Association, MR Gokul Krishnan, said a representation had already been sent to the Tamil Nadu Legal Services Authority seeking provision for legal aid at the tribunal.